Millions of tons of "black diamonds" are sent to sea from the Southern's export coal terminal at Charleston, South Carolina. (Above - left) A "cut" of loaded cars is pushed toward the tipple while an empty car drifts back. (Above - right) Coal cascades into dumping pan and onto a moving belt-conveyor to be carried into a ship's hold.
This is a story about a lump of southern coal and how it gets into ships bound for such far-off places as Belgium, Greece, France, Holland, England, South America and other foreign lands.
When you have a lot of lumps of coal--say 200 or so carloads of them-to be fitted into the interior of an ex- Liberty ship, it is not exactly practical to attempt the job with a shovel. For this reason the Southern Railway System has spent a good many hundreds of thousands of dollars building and maintaining at Charleston, South Carolina, its "Export Coal Terminal." However, everybody refers to this terminal as a "coal tipple," which is simpler to say and has the added advantage of describing the operation to a "T"-because it tips.
Actually, the tipple doesn't tip; the coal cars do. They tip (or are tipped) at the amazing rate of one every three minutes when the apparatus is tipping along full blast, and the gleaming stream of coal cascading into the hold of a ship is something to, behold. The whole operation is most fascinating and should be interesting to a lot of folks who probably didn't know the Southern has a coal tipple.
Author Irving Anthony once wrote a book entitled "Down to the Sea in Ships" but he was evidently not talking about coal, which goes "down to the sea on the Southern Railway." The coal pier itself is so long you could say with reasonable accuracy that our coal cars actually go to sea themselves 3,800 ft. is a long way to walk, and that's how long the pier is.
The steel-and-concrete pier which supports the tipple is 375 ft. long, and the water on the loading side is 30 ft. deep at mean low tide. This makes it possible to load any type of ship up to approximately 600 ft. in length.
A view down the pier.
Coal trains come into the storage yards at Charleston from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia. Ships come in from just about everywhere for either coal cargo or "bunkering." The latter term is applied to loading coal into the bunkers of ships that burn it for power, and "bunkering" a ship takes only a fraction of the coal and the time required for a cargo ship, which handles up to 200 or more carloads.
When the ship is in place alongside the tipple a switch engine pushes a cut of loaded cars over the 3,800-ft. trestle. When the cut reaches the tipple a car is pushed into position for dumping and the others in the cut are pulled back to clear. A giant clamp fastens into place to hold the car in position, and then heavy machinery lifts and tilts the car at the same time.
The coal pours from the tipped-over car into a huge dumping pan which forms one end of a long telescopic chute. Inside the chute is a belt-conveyor which carries the coal through the chute to the ship's hold. The telescopic chute can be set at various angles to reach the holds, and the entire electrically-operated car-dumper and loading-tower can be shifted to any part of the 375-ft. pier to serve different hatches without moving the ship.
A belt-conveyor at the end of the loading-tower boom can be lowered into a ship's hold, turned 360 degrees, and elevated to various angles to trim the coal as it is being loaded.
The emptied coal car does not remain suspended upside down in mid-air while the coal channels through the chute and into the ship's hold. As soon as the last lump drops out, the machinery of the tipple lowers the car into its normal position, the switch engine pushes another car onto the dumper and, in the same operation, pushes out the empty.
The released coal car rolls downgrade a short ways, crosses a spring switch to clear, loses its momentum on an upgrade at the sea end of the pier, and starts back to- ward land. The spring switch sees to it that the car drifts to the storage track, where it joins the growing cut of empties waiting to be pulled back by the switch engine to the outbound storage yards.
The ocean end of the coal terminal is called the "kick- back" track because gravity "kicks" the cars back toward land. At the extreme end of the pier is a little house called the "kick-back house" where workmen are stationed at an electrically-operated winch. They go into action if a car fails to drift far enough to clear the spring switch. 1f a car stops they attach a cable to the coupler, draw the car forward to clear the switch, and cut it loose to drift onto "- the storage track. Since cars are shuttling up and back every three minutes when the tipple is operating, these men have to work fast in such emergencies.
The End - End of the story - of the line - and of the coal pier at Charleston, South Carolina. That little structure at the pier-end is the "kick back" house.
The "kick-back house " is now on the side near the end of the pier, but it used to be at the extreme end of the tracks. The reason for this change is probably understood by no one better than Walter Anderson, a tipple workman, who happened to be in the house one night when a car rolled too far and stuck its coupler through the "kick-back house's" front door.
The house stopped the car, but the blow was just too much. With Walter inside, the house broke loose from the end of the pier and, as it dropped some 50 ft. to the water, opened like a pack of cards. A horrified fellow-workman rushed to the pier's end, looked down, and saw Walter reclining on several boards in the water.
"My, oh my," he said to the recumbent figure so far below, "I hope your insurance is paid, Walter!" Gaining his breath, Walter made it plain that what he was interested in was a rope or a boat-not insurance. He is still working at the pier and has taken no more unexpected swims.
The Southern decided way back in 1913 - at a board meeting September 19, to be exact-to purchase the land needed for the pier and tipple, land which was at that time owned by the Magnolia Cemetery. The transaction was eventually consummated in 1915 and, on September 2 of that year, A. C. Miller, who is now general foreman of the terminal, dumped the first car of coal into a barge, the "Helen T." The first ship loaded (railroaders will understand that there's a difference between a barge and a ship! ) was the Spanish steamer "Marte."
Business started on that day remained brisk until about 1933, when for about twelve subsequent years the tipple was practically out of operation. It did stay open to load one cargo ship of gas coal a month those twelve years, but that was about all, except for a little bunkering.
On February 1, 1945, business started coming to life again with a vengeance, and quite a few foreign countries can thank their lucky stars these days for the Southern's tipple. Otherwise they'd be getting along with far less coal than they are.
In 1946 the tipple dumped 25,540 cars of coal into 166 ships, and since it started operations back in 1915 it has dumped a total of 187,610 cars. The rated capacity of the plant is 1,500 to 2,000 tons of coal per hour, but in actual operation it has been found most satisfactory to operate at approximately 800 tons an hour. This keeps the coal from breaking up. The entire operation, for that matter, is arranged so even the most easily pulverized type of coal can be loaded into the hold of ships with a minimum of degradation. The car-tipping device can handle cars holding up to 100-tons capacity, not less than 6 ft. in height above the top of rail, and not in excess of 52 It. in overall length-between coupler pulling faces. Occasionally an over-length car gets to the tipple by mistake and ties things up considerably.
Maybe fish like southern coal-for they abound in the waters about the pier. Pretty much of a mixture, too - catfish and salt water fish. Fishing on the part of ship crews makes the men who work on the Southern's tipple most unhappy. They, too, would 'like to go fishing-but they can't do it. They're too busy tipping coal!